Lockdowns caused 31% drop in heart attack treatments

Lockdowns caused 31% drop in heart attack treatments

During the German coronavirus lockdown in March and April, hospitals treated 31 percent fewer cases of heart attacks and 18 percent fewer cases of strokes than at the same time last year, a recently released study found.

The study was commissioned by Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse (AOK), a union of 11 regional health insurance agencies in Germany. While the study did not take into account all people living in Germany, it is nonetheless indicative of the situation in the country, given that roughly 27 million people – about one third of the German population – have health insurance through AOK.

When the coronavirus lockdown was first imposed upon Germans in March, hospitals were asked by the government to postpone all surgeries that were not time sensitive, in order to have capacities available to treat patients who had contracted COVID-19. In fact, hospitals received €560 (about $660) of taxpayer money each day for each unused bed.

Overall, hospitals treated 39 percent fewer cases than in March and April of 2019. As planned and expected, the number of performed surgeries that were not urgent at all dropped significantly.

“The largest decreases in the number of cases were recorded for osteoarthritis-related hip replacement surgery (-79%) and for breast (-76%) and bowel reconstruction (-70%),” the study pointed out. “In contrast, urgent and life-threatening diseases such as fractures of the neck of the femur, acute appendicitis or tumor removal were mostly treated in constant case volumes even during the lockdown phase.”

At the same time, treatments of heart attacks dropped by almost one third, and treatments of strokes by more than one fifth. The study characterized these findings as “surprising.”

Transient ischemic attacks, which are considered mini-strokes, were treated in 37 percent fewer instances than last year.

The study listed several potential reasons for the drop in treatments of dangerous, and often deadly, issues like heart attacks and strokes: “a) regulatory causes through guidelines at federal, state or local level, at the level of regional crisis committees or at clinic level, b) epidemiological causes in the form of a reduced incidence of diseases and treatment causes in the population, c) individual causes leading to reduced demand and d) economic incentives through the reimbursement of unused, reserved beds.”

In particular, the study pointed to even more potential reasons, including lack of screenings, for instance regarding breast cancer. Fewer breast cancer screenings performed automatically means fewer cases of breast cancer discovered, which means fewer cases are treated at hospitals.

Limited hours at regular doctors’ offices also led to fewer illnesses and injuries being discovered. At the same time, potentially positive developments like an increase in telemedicine helped to avoid hospital stays for some people.

Key findings regarding the drop in heart attacks and strokes treated at hospitals were: “Patients with mild or early symptoms did not go to hospital or were late because they were afraid of becoming infected,” and, “Patients with mild or early symptoms did not alert the emergency services or were late because they suspected that the health care system was overloaded or because they were trivializing their symptoms.”

“In the context of the present observational study, it is not possible to clarify the causes of the declines in the individual treatment events,” the authors of the document admitted.

In the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Robert Redfield remarked similarly that while the coronavirus lockdowns may have prevented some deaths related to COVID-19, other deaths were caused by the lockdowns.

“I think that the cost to our nation in continuing to keep these schools closed is substantial, and I’m hopeful that resources that are necessary can be made available,” Redfield said during a July 14 webinar hosted by the Buck Institute. “But there has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools.”

“We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID,” he lamented. “We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID.”